Agricultural input subsidy programs in Africa: an assessment of recent evidence

Type Working Paper - Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy
Title Agricultural input subsidy programs in Africa: an assessment of recent evidence
This study reviews the evidence regarding the recent wave of smart input subsidy programs in
Africa and identifies components of a holistic and sustainable agricultural productivity growth
strategy that could improve the contribution of input subsidy programs to African governments’
national development objectives.
African governments’ commitment after the Abuja African Fertilizer Summit (2006) to increase
fertilizer use from 8 to 50 kg of nutrients per hectare by 2015 reinforces the importance of
inorganic fertilizer for increasing crop productivity and attaining food security in Africa. The
impacts of achieving this target, however, will depend greatly on the agronomic efficiency of
applied fertilizer. Many African governments’ efforts to raise agricultural productivity have focused
on programs to increase fertilizer use. Relatively little effort has been made in recent decades to
help African farmers raise the efficiency with which they use fertilizer.
Over the past decade, targeted input subsidy programs have constituted the main tool by which
many African governments have sought to raise fertilizer use; in many countries, these programs
have become the centerpiece of state agricultural development and food security strategies. While
they have produced important benefits on national food production and food security, these
impacts have been attenuated by generally low crop response to fertilizer use and to
implementation features that depress the programs’ contribution to overall fertilizer use. These
limitations in turn have diminished the subsidy programs’ contribution to poverty reduction and
sustainable agricultural productivity growth. Low crop response to fertilizer has also impeded the
growth of commercial demand for fertilizer in Africa. There is strong evidence that farmers will
demand more fertilizer when they are able to obtain higher crop response to fertilizer and
therefore make its use more profitable.

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